Paul has almost finished his letter to the Corinthians and the stern tone of the recent verses is replaced by the most lovely of conclusions as Paul once again lets the Corinthians see just how much he loves them.
It is an impressive way to conclude a letter that has spoken so much of tension, disagreement, suspicion and frustration. Paul has said everything he wanted to say and now concludes by drawing together a number of the themes he had tackled earlier in the letter and combining them in a wonderfully positive and hope-
It is noteworthy that the letter which had so evidently cost Paul so much to write is brought to a close with perhaps some of the most quoted words that Paul ever penned. How many times, I wonder, have you joined in as a minister has closed a service by inviting you to say the grace with him?
v.14 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
And so this evening we are completing our studies in 2Corinthians.
Final Instructions and Exhortations
What a mess the Corinthians had got themselves into! What mistakes and errors of judgment they had been guilty of! They had succeeded in causing division amongst themselves and they had ensured that their relationships with their church’s founding apostle had been soured.
What could they expect now? And what could they hope for in the future?
There may have been a time (or times) in your Christian life when you too have been aware that you had messed up big-
I wonder if the Corinthians had started to think like that.
Well, the Corinthians could have reacted like that to what Paul had so far written but they certainly didn’t need to. And neither do we!
As Paul brings his letter to an end he sounds a very upbeat note. And it may be just the kind of note we need to hear from the Lord ourselves this evening.
We will especially need to hear it if we have settled, perhaps a long time ago, for a low-
We need to listen to, and learn from, Paul’s Spirit-
Paul is thinking about all the Corinthians now as the end of his letter is in view. The word translated "brothers" doesn’t just refer to the men of the church it refers to men and women alike. Some modern translations to emphasize this put "brothers and sisters". No-
v.14 "you all."
Paul’s remarks then are not restricted to a part of the congregation, gender isn’t an issue here, and neither are these heartening words addressed only to those who have shown themselves a little more sympathetic to Paul than the others. No, these words are not just addressed to Paul’s friends in the congregation but also to those who had been in the forefront of listening to all those rumours, insinuations and accusations that had targeted the apostle.
There next follows a series of exhortations or commands. Let us look at them one by one:
v.11 "Rejoice". Some translations treat what Paul says as though he is simply saying his good-
After all the tension of the later chapters of this letter where Paul so clearly longs for a change of heart in the Corinthians we might have expected a lament or a call to solemn and serious reflection but Paul calls for rejoicing!
Now why is that? How can Paul write in this way?
It seems to me that the answer lies in the fact that Paul is oozing confidence. Yes, it is true that he has issued some serious warnings but he expects those warnings to be enough; he expects God to be at work!
We should not give up on failing or struggling Christians because Christians can change and failing Christians can be restored.
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was penning what would become part of the Written Word of God and the Word of God when it is applied by the Spirit of God is living, active, powerful and effective:
When Paul urges the Corinthians to rejoice he is not asking them to whistle in the dark, as it were, in order to keep their spirits up. Scripture so often gives us reasons why certain behaviour is required of us – it is not different here. Just a few verses previously Paul has implied that he believes Christ dwells in these folk. His own ministry carried out under Jesus’ authority is for building them up and not for destroying them. In the light of such convictions surely the way forward for the Corinthians is the way of rejoicing. They, as Paul, must look ahead with expectation and not with dread and resignation.
Nevertheless to head forward in this way will no necessarily be an easy matter and this Paul recognises as he calls upon the Corinthians to "aim for full restoration" v.11.
Once again the translations express this in various ways: the AV reads "Be perfect" The NKJV has "Become complete" and the NIV "strive for full restoration." The underlying idea is that of mending something that had been formerly broken – that means restoring or making whole or complete or perfect. Some paraphrases put it like this: "Mend your ways" which would link back to Paul’s calls to repent earlier in the letter.
The use of the word "strive" suggests effort will be necessary. The grammar suggests that this will not be achieved by the effort of the Corinthians alone but rather will be brought about by the power of God working with them and through them.
The idea that Paul is trying to get across is the same as what he wrote to the Christians in Philippi:
The Corinthians must set their sights high in the same way Paul had:
v.11 "comfort one another" or "encourage one another" or "be encouraged". This call reminds us that we are not in the battle all on our own nor are we meant to be!
v.11 "agree with one another" or "be of one mind" is the next injunction and what a relevant one it was. The Christians at Corinth don’t seem to have been singing off the same hymn sheet and Paul urges them to sort things out.
This is not a call to bland uniformity where everyone appears as a clone of everyone else but a call to be united on the serious matters that really count. This has long been the aim of the Christian church as the following quote which has long been attributed to Augustine, the famous theologian of the fourth and fifth century, shows:
"In essentials, unity; in non-
v.11 "live in peace" follows on in a logical order and chimes in with the above quote "in all things, charity".
It is of course interesting to note that men and women can only live this way when God is at work with them and amongst them and this divine presence is seen to be the result or the fruit of such harmonious living.
We’re not to worry about the chicken and egg nature of this for as we have noted earlier:
"it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil.2:12)
And what a God this is who works his good pleasure in us – he is the God of love and peace!
Paul has yet one more command to pass on to the Corinthians and it is a command that he repeated to a number of other churches too. Churches were to be marked by genuine warmth and loving concern with proper yet close relationships being maintained between individuals:
v.12 "Greet each other with a holy kiss." Cf. Rom.16:16; 1Cor.16:20; 1Thess.5:26.
The sentence doesn’t encourage the playing of favourites such warmth and friendliness is to be widely shared within a congregation. For years this was common behaviour for churches though in time the practice was dropped due to abuses and criticism of impropriety from outside the church.
What is of importance is, of course, not the form but the appropriate expression in each culture of warm Christian love. J.B. Phillips in his paraphrase published in 1958 substituted a very English compromise. He replaced "the holy kiss" with a more prosaic:
" A handshake all round, please!"
The much more recent Message aimed primarily at an American market also tries a cultural equivalent:
"Greet one another with a holy embrace." – the man-
But Paul also wants the Corinthians to know that they are not to think that they are alone in demonstrating genuine warmth in their own internal relationships other churches are interested in them and concerned for them too – Paul transmits their greetings too!
You know the concluding words of this letter very well indeed. I probably don’t need to quote them to you but I will anyway:
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
The passage we considered this morning had a Trinitarian flavour and we find exactly that same flavour here.
Paul begins with Jesus and the grace that he brings – for Paul grace is everything and for grace to be grace it is important that we grasp some truths about it. Grace cannot be bought and grace cannot be earned. If indeed we are to benefit from this grace we must receive it as a free gift. The grace that brings us blessings in Jesus Christ is always undeserved and unmerited.
Now some people don’t like the idea of free gifts – they want to pay their way as they see it. On the spiritual front such a reaction exhibits a sinfully proud heart and will serve to exclude the owner from all of the benefits of salvation!
Paul doesn’t however simply refer to Jesus but employs a full description: he is the Lord Jesus Christ:
Lord points us to his divine nature
Jesus points us to his human nature
Christ points us to his identity of the Messiah of God sent to deliver his people from their sins.
The love of God refers to the Father’s love for us. In that love he sent his Son so that we might be saved. Paul prays for the Corinthians that they might know, understand and experience this love in their Christian lives.
Finally, there is spiritual communion to be enjoyed with the Triune God and this is particularly the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
What a blessing, what a benediction, what a prayer full of spiritual fervour and desire for the spiritual well-
May such be our desire and our experience as well.